Every year Echoing Green, an organization whose mission is to “unleash next generation talent to solve the world’s biggest problems,” awards fellowships to social entrepreneurs who have breakthrough ideas that address deep-rooted cultural, systematic, or societal problems. The highly selective fellowship program will provide almost $5 million in seed-stage funding to 52 emerging leaders.
While we’re impressed by all of them, we want to highlight six fellows who are using their skills and award money to bring about positive social change in communities around the world.
Sara Minkara: Empowerment Through Integration
“I found that Lebanon’s culture often fails to recognize the potential of the blind – from human rights to access to opportunities in the workforce – the visually impaired were excluded from society.”
American born Sara Minkara was just seven years old when she went blind. A trip to Lebanon, her parents’ homeland, made her understand that, unlike the US, there are societies where severe social stigma against blindness exists. This motivated her to start Empowerment Through Integration (ETI) with her Wellesley classmate, Maysa Mourad.
ETI began as Camp Rafiqi – a summer camp for sighted and visually impaired children in Tripoli, Lebanon whose mission was to show the campers, their families, and the community that blindness did not obstruct learning, playing, or forming friendships. In addition to traditional camp activities, campers learn life, job, and computer skills. While the increasingly unstable political situation in Lebanon forced ETI to suspend the camps, Sara has started a similar program in Nicaragua.
Laura Dunn: SurvJustice
“I founded SurvJustice after tragedy, struggle and eventual triumph over campus sexual violence.”
After her own traumatic encounter with sexual violence while in college, Laura Dunn knew that universities needed to radically improve the way they deal with sexual violence on campus. She recounts, “I was denied justice from every avenue, but my story helped change national policy around campus sexual assault”.
After receiving her law degree, Laura founded SurvJustice, a non-profit that assists survivors, empowers activists, and holds both perpetrators and enablers of sexual violence accountable. While a main goal of SurvJustice is to bring perpetrators of sexual assault to justice through legal assistance to survivors, they also aim to prevent assault in the first place by providing resources and training to institutions.
Wendell Adjetey and Etienne Mashuli: Tujenge Africa Foundation
“Quality education is the great equalizer, especially for impoverished children.”
Wendell Adjetey and Etienne Mashuli both overcame extreme hardship and adversity. Wendell’s family lived in a slum in Ghana and Etienne had to flee to Kenya to escape civil war and genocide in his native Rwanda.
Wendell and Etienne are constantly motivated by the experiences of their childhoods and began the Tujenge Africa Foundation (TAF) to “catapult post-conflict African youth upward through quality education, leadership, entrepreneurship, and peace-building”. TAF identifies and trains young scholars, entrepreneurs, and artists to actively participate in their country’s post-war reconstruction and their society’s reconciliation and healing. TAF believes that this boundary-pushing social intervention alleviates traumatic experiences and is the key to creating sustainable communities.
Sarah Toumi: Acacias for All
“I was nine when I saw a place where children can’t go to school and women don’t have access to opportunity. But I was coming from Paris, the city of lights where everything is possible. It became unbearable for me to know that such vast inequalities exist and do nothing. So it became my purpose.”
Sarah Toumi grew up in France, but her life changed course during visits to her father’s home in Tunisia. While there, she saw terrible poverty and realized that desertification of farmland was a crucial obstacle for poor rural communities. While much of the land was at risk for becoming completely infertile, Sarah observed that there was still a chance to renew it.
This experience catalyzed her creation of Acacias for All, which introduces holistic farming, such as context-appropriate crops, to fight desertification and poverty in the Maghreb. Through planting, training, and commercializing, they pass along sustainable, income-generating farming techniques.
Abubaker Musuuza: Village Energy Limited
“Although born in Kampala, I spent lengthy periods of my childhood in rural areas. While there I saw the horrors faced by households that rely on kerosene for lighting: damage to property, burns from fires.”
Growing up in Uganda, Abubaker Musuuza experienced the stark contrast between rural and city life, and could sum up the difference in one word: energy. In rural areas, Abubaker couldn’t read late or listen to the radio and was frequently reminded of the danger of kerosene lamps.
Abubaker realized a solution to this was “off the grid” solar energy. His organization, Village Energy Limited (VEL) seeks to ensure consistent access to basic electricity for rural communities in East Africa. Often, when solar technology breaks down, rural communities must wait months for a technician. VEL created a solution to this problem by forming a network of rural technicians to bring repair times down to 48-72 hours. VEL works to train and support technicians which creates more jobs and supports local entrepreneurship, which ultimately leads to a longer-lasting, more sustainable solutions to rural energy challenges.